The HALO Awards Cast
Rocio Ortega is a first-generation Mexican American who developed a passion for advocating education as a way to help young women become independent and successful.
After undergoing media training with GlobalGirl Media, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering girls from under-served communities around the world through new media leadership training, Ortega became aware of Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation. She started a Girl Up chapter at her East Los Angeles high school to raise awareness and funds for girls living in developing countries to be safe, healthy, educated and counted. In 2012, she was promoted to Youth Champion of the campaign. As a former U.S. House of Representatives Page and Intern for U.S. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano in 2012, Ortega and a delegation of Girl Up members worked with her Representative's office to gain support and help pass the End of Child Marriage Bill.
Ortega is currently a sophomore at Wellesley College where she was elected Senator for MEZCLA Club to represent the Latina population in student government. She continues to stay busy with Girl Up at both her high school and college chapters while also working with Women's Voice Now - a non-profit group that empowers Muslim women through media. Ortega is an ambassador for Running Start, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing young women to politics as well as an Alumna Intern for the Chicano/Latino Youth Leadership Project, enhancing and building the leadership potential of California's Chicano/Latino youth.
Ortega loves watching documentaries, Victoria Justice and basketball.
To learn more about Rocio, click here to watch her honoree video!
A bubbly, fun-loving, 16-year old surfer, Miranda Fuentes has a natural gift for working with autistic children. Inspired by her younger brother Lucas who has autism, a developmental disorder that affects motor coordination, social interaction and the ability to communicate, Fuentes has spent the past five years volunteering with Surfers for Autism. The Florida-based organization uses surfing as hydrotherapy, which helps the kids open up and express themselves in an inclusive and calming environment. The organization also helps eliminate the social stigma around autism and gives the participants an opportunity to impress their families with their new capabilities.
Growing up, Fuentes was always close to her brother, but she had difficulty understanding autism and why it caused Lucas to act differently. Having no peers with autistic siblings, she felt isolated and alone in having to explain his condition to all her friends as well as frustrated with the negative stereotypes associated with the condition.
Fuentes was first introduced to Surfers for Autism when her family attended an organized surfing event in April 2008 where she aided her brother and other kids in the water to much success. She was invited to volunteer at other events and encouraged to begin training as an instructor. Fuentes soon became a master instructor, leading teams of volunteers, taking kids out on her own, overseeing registration and helping set up tents and equipment.
Fuentes has helped Surfers for Autism grow from one event with 40 volunteers to an organization that regularly caters to 200 participants, 400 volunteers and over 3,000 spectators at each event. She works one-on-one with over 150 kids a year, teaching them to surf and building lasting bonds with them. She has also become a role model for teens with autistic siblings, helping them to better understand the disorder. When she isn't surfing, Fuentes enjoys skateboarding and playing with her brothers. She also hopes to one day take over as president of Surfers for Autism.
To learn more about Miranda, click here to watch her honoree video!
Growing up as one of three identical triplets in Methuen, Mass., Zachary Kerr always knew something wasn't quite right about his personal identity. After years of confusion and depression, Kerr discovered that he had been battling gender identity issues and decided to make a transitional journey. Throughout this transition from female to male, Kerr faced tough challenges at school from both students and teachers. He then decided to become a positive advocate for the transgender community, in order to help pave the way for more acceptance and equal treatment for others in the same transition.
Kerr joined his school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club and soon became president, allowing him to attend the GSA national gathering in Washington, D.C. as a youth representative. He then joined the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Students, for which he runs workshops and shares his personal story to help educate school staff on how to create safe and encouraging environments. In addition, Kerr has also helped facilitate similar educational programs through Greater Boston PFLAG, where he speaks in large school assemblies, classroom groups, health classes and professional development sessions for teachers.
Kerr has spoken at 200 schools in Massachusetts and met with the state governor about the importance of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. He is currently speaking to the Secretary of Education regarding policy change that supports transgender students nationwide. As Kerr enters his freshman year at Wheelock College this fall, he hopes to soon develop a mentoring program, similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters, for transgender youth.
To learn more about Zach, click here to watch his honoree video!
Growing up in a rough neighborhood in North Philadelphia with limited nutritious foods available, 18-year-old Denzel Thompson battled obesity his entire life. The most accessible food stores in Thompson's community are fast food restaurants and convenience stores, contributing to the high childhood obesity rate in the area. As his body image issues and low self-esteem peaked in the eighth grade, Thompson dropped out of school and became severely depressed. Over time, he slowly pulled himself together by going back to school. On a volunteer trip to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, Thompson worked with a group of volunteers to build greenhouses and transform vacant lands into urban gardens. Upon returning home, he decided to make a change in his own community with the goal of putting a stop to the high obesity rate.
Thompson and six other teens created Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC), a youth led organization that grows sustainable healthy food from the ground up. After going door-to-door and hosting neighborhood block parties to help raise money, he then convinced the Village of Arts and Humanities to donate a three-acre lot of land to PUC for farming. Thompson organized homegrown affordable farmers markets for the neighborhood, while also selling produce to restaurants and grocery stores to collect money to buy more supplies and seeds. He soon became a mentor, conducting free educational training and hands-on gardening workshops for the community.
In the past four years since he started PUC, Thompson has lost over 150 pounds by eating whatever he grows. He continues to stay actively involved in PUC and plans to implement an organic farming curriculum for local schools. Denzel plans to finish high school next year and attend Temple University to study agriculture and liberal arts.
To learn more about Denzel, click here to watch his honoree video!
Raymone George discovered a passion for dancing at The Beacon Center, an after school program that provides a safe haven in neighborhoods where poverty and crime is prevalent. Dancing allowed George to work out his frustrations in a creative and healthy manner and he credits it for keeping him out of trouble. He currently spends time choreographing and coaching the center's 10-14 year old dance troupe and works one-on-one with kids who are struggling. George's HALO match, Ne-Yo, supports Boys & Girls Clubs of America and founded the Compound Foundation which is committed to increasing awareness about the status of children in the child welfare system. The organization also supports and partners with residential care facilities and independent group homes through programs aimed at teaching entrepreneurship and life skills that will empower them to become productive, successful, independent adults.
A bubbly and fashion forward self-starter, senior Allyson Ahlstrom of Santa Rosa, Calif., combined her love of fashion and community service to create Threads for Teens, an organization that collects and distributes clothing to disadvantaged teen girls while giving them a boutique shopping experience! She believes that by showing these girls that people want them to have the best and feel their best, they can increase self-esteem and confidence, and help them find the inspiration to pursue their future goals. If they feel like their best, they'll strive for the best.
Starting with just an idea, Ahlstrom initially reached out to over 300 clothing companies and brands for donations. There was an overwhelming positive response and the organization quickly grew from her parents' living room into a storefront location. Within two years, Ahlstrom moved Threads for Teens to a permanent pink boutique which has over 30 teen volunteers. Allyson uses local social workers and counselors to identify girls who would most benefit from these new outfits and books one-on-one appointments almost every day while still continuing to bring in donations.
To date, Ahlstrom has raised over $130,000 in product donations and outfitted over 200 girls. With the hope of inspiring girls to go after their dreams, she provides individual support by bonding over fashion, talking about their lives and sharing motivational advice. A few girls were so moved by their shopping experience that they've come back to volunteer at the boutique. Ahlstrom is planning a summer 2013 "Threads for Teens on Tour" where she is going to transform a semi-truck into a boutique that will travel to 48 states including Washington DC, outfitting at least 20 girls in each city, with the goal of outfitting a total of 1,000 girls.
For more information on Threads for Teens, click here.
Matt Ferguson was inspired to start Matt's Chemo Bags during his freshman year of high school after finding out his mom had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. She was given a low chance of survival due to pre-existing medical conditions and would need a double mastectomy and chemotherapy to even have a chance at beating the cancer.
Ferguson stayed by his mother's side throughout her grueling chemo treatments. During his visits to the oncology clinic he watched helplessly as his mom and other women suffered the terrible side effects of treatment. One of the few things that brought relief to his mother was a tote bag (given by his aunt) filled with carefully selected comforting items -- body lotion, hand sanitizer, tissues, moist wipes, an emery board, a thin scarf, warm socks, a small handmade lap blanket, a lap pillow, a pen and notebook and a teddy bear. Knowing that many women go through this grueling treatment alone, he began replicating that bag for other women suffering from breast cancer in hopes that it would bring them the same comfort that it brought his own mother. With that, Matt's Chemo Bags was born.
Right away the donations started pouring in. Ferguson began to organize many bag-stuffing events with his high school, Girl Scout troops, 4H groups and various large companies. Motivated by the community's positive feedback to his cause, Ferguson expanded his breast cancer fundraising efforts and created a now annual Think Pink Week at his high school. Within just two years, this event has already raised over $20,000. Matt's Chemo Bags continues to grow and now services all of Oregon, Southwest Washington and Northern California and has raised over $60,000 and distributed over 7,500 bags to date. Now a freshman at Northern Arizona University, Ferguson continues working toward his ultimate goal: to make Matt's Chemo Bags a nationwide organization before graduation.
For more information on Matt's Chemo Bags, click here.
Abandoned at birth on the steps of a home for the elderly in Gaoming, China, Kylie Lan Tumiatti was adopted into a loving family that instilled in her a passion for giving back to the community. Her love of reading started when her parents read to her throughout the 25 hour flight home. After watching her younger sister and other adoptees struggle with learning English, she decided to help others who faced similar obstacles.
Passionate about promoting literacy and an avid reader herself, she contacted Operation Hope in Fellsmere, Fla., a non-profit facility that provides prekindergarten classes to children of migrant workers. Together they implemented a literacy program that enhances the language skills of young children while simultaneously instilling a love of stories and books.
Tumiatti wanted to engage the children and teach them the importance of reading in a way that would allow them to easily understand words. She decided the best path would be to bring books to life through performance (complete with costumes) and by recording audio books for children to listen to at the center and at home. In addition to securing grants to purchase audio recording equipment, Tumiatti recruited child actors and volunteers to record the stories. As many of the children live in homes without technology, Tumiatti also collected battery-operated CD players, making it possible for the students to continue their education out of the classroom.
For more information on Operation Hope, click here.
A compassionate leader and aspiring teacher, Taylor Waters belief in giving back to her community stems from her personal experiences with disaster. She continues to encourage youth involvement through her hometown American Red Cross and she is establishing her own Red Cross Club at East Carolina University. Waters' HALO match is Josh Duhamel, who supports the disaster relief efforts of the American Red Cross, as well as his hometown's Minot Area Community Foundation in North Dakota which establishes permanently endowed funds to support both local and national charities and charitable causes.
For more information on the American Red Cross, click here.
Nineteen-year old, Georgia native James O'Dwyer is a charismatic engineering student and true Southern boy who loves the outdoors, country music and rooting for the Alabama Crimson Tide. On April 27, 2011, James was sitting in his dorm room at the University of Alabama when the devastating tornado hit Tuscaloosa. The tornado miraculously spared the campus but left a six-mile track of destruction across town. After the campus was shut down and he returned home, James decided he would collect supplies to help the tornado victims in Tuscaloosa.
Utilizing several social media networks, James put out the word that he would be collecting donations for those affected by the tornado and within hours, his driveway was filled with people dropping off donations. With the success of his collection, James was not only able to drop off supplies in Tuscaloosa, but continue collections to aid many of the smaller towns affected by the crisis. He soon started Magnolia Disaster Relief, an aid program that targets the small rural towns that were hit the hardest and helped the least.
Although it has been several months since the tornado hit, James and Magnolia Disaster Relief are still very active, coordinating donations to affected areas and providing help for other disasters no matter how large or small. He plans to create "hit kits" which will provide all the essentials for a small community to have on hand in case of a disaster. He never wants to be unprepared again and believes even the smallest communities can be ready for when a natural disaster occurs.
As a young girl, Emily-Anne Rigal was constantly bullied because of her weight. She was put down and isolated by her peers to the point where she felt her only option was to switch schools. Recognizing just how upsetting her experience with bullying had been, she vowed that she would do everything she could to keep others from going through the same thing.
In 2010, Emily-Anne took to the web and created WeStopHate.org, a teen-run website that combats bullying through social media videos created by teens themselves. WeStopHate.org currently has over 500,000 members in which participants share videos of their own stories of triumph and offers advice to others affected by bullying on how they can put a stop to it.
Constantly on the go, Emily-Anne travels around the country giving presentations, speaking at summits and helping others design anti-bullying campaigns. She continues to be a role-model and inspiration - answering fan mail, giving advice and spreading her message of self-worth. Sending inspirational messages, quotes and photos to their audience many times a day, Emily-Anne truly gives teens a voice and platform to tell their story. For more information on "We Stop Hate", check it out here.
Effervescent and charismatic, this confident California-born teen had an incredibly rough childhood that was plagued with gang violence. Thankfully, her grandmother decided to move herself and Shanoah to St. Petersburg, Fla., and enrolled her at the local Boys & Girls Club, providing her with guidance to reach her full potential. She has since contributed over 4500 hours of public service as a Jr. Leader, Teen Council Vice President and tutor for Project Learn. She was also voted the 2010 and 2011 Youth of the Year.
Through the club, Shanoah has used her spoken word and slam poetry to promote social consciousness and to help young people find their voice so they can heal and express their hopes and dreams. During one of her poetry classes, an 11 year old girl who had been abused, raped, molested and moved through the foster care system broke down to Shanoah saying she was fed up with life and wanted to give up and commit suicide. Reminded of her own childhood and remembering that she wished she had someone to turn to at that age, Shanoah was inspired to help this girl and others like her.
Recognizing a need for a supportive space for young girls, Shanoah created Sista2Sista, a mentoring program for girls that aims to motivate young women through the development of self-esteem, self-discipline, positive thinking and exercising their right to make correct choices. Their objective is for each girl to learn and develop leadership skills, social skills, effective communication skills and social development. Shanoah sees the girls every day and holds meetings with them twice a week, where they learn life skills, engage in artistic projects and listen to inspirational guest speakers. For more information on Sista2Sista, check out their here.
Kyle Weiss of Danville, Calif., isn't your average teenager. A motivated and energetic individual from a family of self-proclaimed soccer freaks, Kyle learned the great benefit of sports from a young age. Kyle's activism was sparked after speaking to Angolan fans at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He learned of the dire state of Angola and how so few people can even afford to leave the country, let alone attend a professional match. He also learned that to the youth of Africa, soccer means everything, but lacking resources, most have to kick a makeshift ball of garbage bags around a dusty lot.
Upon returning from Germany, Kyle decided to take action. He gathered his friends to figure out how they could make a difference. They considered collecting soccer equipment to send overseas to Africa, but realized what the children needed first were soccer fields. And so, FUNDaFIELD was born.
FUNDaFIELD has raised $140,000 so far, funding nine soccer fields in Africa. Today, there are 30 core members and 200 plus members in various FUNDaFIELD chapters around the country. Some of these members focus on fundraising, some on outreach and some on research into the extensive possibilities of sport development in Africa and other developing nations where the fields keep children in school and provide a respite from realities marred by oppression, violence and HIV/AIDS.
Kyle and his team continue to fundraise and are working to grow their organization to build fields around the world. To learn more about FUNDaFIELD, click here.
Adele Taylor has loved books her whole life and realized at a young age that many people take the gift of literacy for granted while others don't have access to reading at all. In an effort to increase awareness and promote literacy in people of all ages, Adele created Adele's Literacy Library in December 2008.
Through her organization, Adele collects thousands of books and bookmarks to donate to schools, libraries and other non-profits in need. As part of her program, she also leads "Storytelling with Adele" where she reads to people and explains the importance of literacy and the advantages of reading. In addition, Adele started "Read All You Can" - a competition between students to see who can read the most books in a month. Last year, more than 2,000 kids participated and a total of 18,271 books were read in a month! For more information on Adele's Literacy Library, click here .
A 6'6", playful, music-loving high school senior, Herold grew up in Jacmel, Haiti, about 25 miles from Port au Prince. Five years ago, his father brought him to Miami to escape the political and social turmoil of Haiti and have better educational opportunities. Herold's mother and five siblings stayed behind, but they stayed in constant touch through calls and texts -- Herold can talk a mile a minute.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, killing an estimated 200,000 people and leaving over a million homeless. Herold spent the day furiously trying to reach his family, to no avail. Finally at 11 that night, he reached his brother-in-law who told him, "The country is gone. There is no more Haiti." It wasn't until the next day -- 24 hours after he learned of the disaster -- that Herold's mother finally reached him at school and told him his family was alive but his home was gone.
The 24 hours during which Herold didn't know the whereabouts or safety of his family were life-altering. He realized that his ability to consistently reach his brother-in-law could be of critical importance to other families searching for loved ones in Haiti. Using twitter, Herold helped 25 families locate their loved ones -- though it was not always good news. Then he began using his twitter account to help guide relief organizations to the exact locations of people still trapped under debris, texting for help.
Since then, Herold has organized food drives at school, and relentlessly makes himself useful to aid organizations like The Human Initiative, Help Haiti Heal, and Help Chile Heal -- helping not just Haiti, but anyone faced with a natural disaster. But he's concerned that as media coverage fades, Haiti will be forgotten. "In January, the whole world was helping Haiti but now they're trailing off. We are in it for the long run." (Here's more information about two organizations Herold is helping: The Human Initiative and Haiti Relief: Fireside International)
Born and raised in Brooklyn and the youngest of four kids, Joshua loves music, basketball, and The Fresh Prince. As part of a close-knit family that has always emphasized the value of education, hard work, and community service, Joshua has spent holidays volunteering with his family from a very young age -- working at food pantries or visiting the sick. He's a firm believer that, in his words, "If there's a need, you have to help meet it."
Already actively involved with his parents' organization, Clothed with Love -- among other things, they distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to neighborhood children who need them -- Joshua learned of another organization his freshman year in high school: Journey for Change . After being accepted to the program, Joshua traveled with the group to South Africa in August 2008, assisting residents of the country's shantytowns with their basic needs of food, water, and clothing. (Click here for more info about Journey for Change.)
The following year, Joshua learned of the epidemic of human trafficking -- and child slavery -- in Ghana. Upon hearing that Ghanaian children as young as three were being sold into slavery by their desperate parents -- thereby depriving them of a childhood, an education, basic needs, and self-worth -- Joshua applied and was accepted to be one of five young people to travel to Ghana with Journey for Change. In Ghana, he became close friends with a former child slave named Donald. While it was hard to hear about what Donald had endured, it increased Joshua's resolve to raise awareness about child slavery.
During the trip, Joshua represented his group to the US Ambassador to Ghana. And since his return, he's continued his advocacy, making presentations at universities and the United Nations, all in the hopes of educating the public that slavery is not yet over.
Growing up in an abusive household was terrifying and traumatic for Lauren. But when she was removed from her home at the age of 12, life didn't get magically better. Adrift in a broken foster care system without any real support, Lauren began acting out -- blowing off school, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and getting kicked out of group home after group home. She went through 22 housing placements in two years.
Facing the reality that she had run out of options, Lauren encountered a group called Adelante Youth Advocates of New Mexico. For the first time, she found herself surrounded by foster youths who had a positive outlook on the future. (Click here for more information about Adelante.)
In the ensuing years, Lauren has gone from being a recipient of Adelante's help to becoming a vital member of the organization; she's now entering her second term as President. With her own life successfully turned around -- she graduated high school, got her own apartment, and has begun a degree in psychology at the University of New Mexico -- Lauren has dedicated herself to making sure other foster youth won't have to struggle the way she did.
A magnetic personality now working to change the system from within, Lauren is a powerful voice for all foster youth. Educating and collaborating with judges, attorneys, social workers, legislators, and foster parents, she helps them understand the experiences with injustice, emotional abuse, and labeling that are common to the children and teens in their care. Her days are busy not just with a full course load, but with conference calls and meetings, planning committees, and volunteer coordination.
With her giving heart and ability to connect to other young people, Lauren also works with youth still in the system. Not only is she a facilitator in a program at a grief center called Gerard's House (click here for more information about Gerard's House), helping others cope with the constant sense of loss associated with being in foster care, but she's also as a direct mentor to two teens struggling in the system. She tirelessly serves as a role model and inspiration to other foster youth, letting them know that the positive potential for their futures is real and realizable.
A charismatic honors student, life-long dancer, and pageant queen, Jordan entered her first pageant when she was nine. Since then she's won a variety of titles, including 2nd place in the teen division of Miss America. But it was after she won a juniors pageant when she was 13 that she decided she could do a lot more with her crown than attend parades.
As a regular volunteer with Special Olympics, Jordan knew how much pride the participants take in receiving their awards -- whether it's 8th place or 1st. And having learned so much about public speaking, poise, confidence, and leadership through her pageant experiences, Jordan knew that she could help give girls with disabilities those same opportunities and that same pride of accomplishment.
So in 2007, at the age of 13, Jordan created Miss Amazing, a pageant for young women with physical and mental disabilities. Participants don't just get to wear their prettiest outfit on stage and practice public speaking and performing; they enjoy a full day of activities -- all organized by Jordan. Since 2007, Miss Amazing has doubled in size to 30 participants, and Jordan is still busy every year personally securing sponsorships and donations, recruiting participants and judges, coordinating volunteers, and even producing the event itself (lights, sound, etc.). Throughout the year she's in touch with participants, helping them work on their interview or pick a gown for the event -- all while competing on her school's dance team and her studio's troupe, dancing 15 hours a week.
Jordan is currently working on establishing a non-profit organization for Miss Amazing, in the hopes of going national. (Click here for more information about Miss Amazing.)
Brryan has been living with full-blown AIDS since the age of five. When Brryan was just 11 months old, his father, in the midst of separating from his mother, intentionally injected Brryan with HIV tainted blood in an attempt to avoid paying future child support. He was eventually convicted of first-degree assault and received the maximum sentence--life in prison. Brryan has had an incredibly difficult childhood and adolescence -- schools were reluctant to admit him, ignorant kids called him names and he constantly got into fights, eventually transferring schools to avoid being beaten up. Now Brryan volunteers as a staff member at Camp Kindle, a camp for young people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS that he formerly attended as a camper. He is also an active participant in Speak Out, Project Kindle's peer-to-peer speakers' bureau, regularly giving talks in schools around the country to educate students about what it's like to live with HIV/AIDS in hopes of combating social stigmas and improving the lives of those living with AIDS. On his 18th birthday, Brryan founded his own organization -- Hope Is Vital (HIV) -- to raise awareness, understanding and compassion for people infected with and suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Megan is a senior at Santa Monica High. Growing up in southern California with a father who is a part-time lifeguard, she's a genuine ocean lover who has found her passion in marine advocacy and is on a self-declared mission to share that with others. During her high school marine biology class, she was introduced to an organization called Team Marine, an environmental organization dedicated to making the Southern California waters safe and clean through research, education and community action. As the first appointed Team Marine captain, Megan has great plans for the group including recycling plastic to raise money to send Life Straws to Africa, organizing beach cleanups, continuing the fight to ban plastic bags in Santa Monica (through marches, distribution of reusable bags and testifying at city hall), and perhaps most importantly, continuing to educate the community as to how they can change their behaviors and help protect the ocean. Megan multiplies her efforts to protect her local coastline as an active member of her school's Heal the Bay and the West L.A. Malibu chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
Darrius was born in the projects of Atlanta. He is one of five kids -- each with a different father -- and was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother when he was two years old. After being taken in by an older cousin, Darrius and his siblings moved to the Bankhead Courts projects, one of the most dangerous communities in Atlanta. Darrius is the first in his family to graduate high school and he is currently in his freshman year at Voorhees College. He was the President of BTEAM (Bankhead Teens Encouraging Action by Motivating others), a group of teens organized to transform their neighborhood from a drug and crime-infested one, to a positive environment where young people can be active and grow towards a brighter future. Darrius is also active with Essential 2 Life, an organization that provides educational and mentoring opportunities in hopes of seeing "a generation of urban youth move beyond poverty to discover a direction in their lives.
Leah Stoltz was in 6th grade when she was told by her doctor that she was developing a serious lateral curve in her spine, a condition called scoliosis (which affects about 1 in 40 young people, mostly girls). She was instructed to wear a full torso, hard plastic brace for 22 hours a day in hopes of correcting the curve. While rarely life-threatening, scoliosis cruelly becomes evident in early adolescence, a time when girls feel most self-conscious about their changing bodies. Feeling alone and deeply frustrated by her body's betrayal, she told her mom she wanted to start her own support group and at 13 founded Curvy Girls of Long Island. Despite enduring the brace for two and a half years, she required major spine surgery causing her to forgo her favorite activities for one year. Leah has become a spokesperson for the National Scoliosis Foundationand Curvy Girls have been instrumental in the success of fundraising by the local chapter of the Scoliosis Association. Through Curvy Girls, Leah has been able to support and educate other young girls and their parents about living with scoliosis and to instill in them a positive self-image and esteem despite the effects of the condition. It is Leah's hope to help more girls start Curvy Girls groups across the country so that "other girls don't have to feel alone."